By Michelle Trauring
Costumes fly everywhere—a confusion of tulle, spandex and tights. Rogue ballet slippers and pointe shoes are scattered across the dressing room floor as the 10 dancers move in a flurry, practically pirouetting around one another as the performance draws near.
Hair is tugged, teased and bobby pinned under a cloud of hairspray. The ballerinas analyze themselves in the mirrors, perfectly lit by rings of glowing light bulbs, and carefully apply their makeup, laughing and smiling through their nerves.
As quickly as they sweep in, they are gone, and a quiet falls over the room. Christie Brinkley, Leslie Odom Jr., Sutton Foster, Audra McDonald, Louie C.K. and others peer out from behind their picture frames hanging on the walls—a hint at the talent that has previously filled this room, and graced the stage downstairs.
There, the dancers warm up, working their feet individually but still interacting as one. As the theater’s blue seats fill up, the dancers head backstage. As the lights go down, they huddle together and put their hands into a big circle. Together, they shout, “Nutcracker!”
For one weekend, Guild Hall belongs to them. But there is a catch.
The majority hasn’t even graduated high school yet.
“It’s an honor to dance at Guild Hall. We’re so lucky,” 17-year-old Rose Kelly said during a recent interview. “I know that the New York City Ballet performs at Guild Hall every summer, so they probably use the same dressing room I’m in. So that’s, like, unbelievable.”
As the dancers get older, they not only move through the ranks of the Guild Hall dressing rooms—starting from basement-level and eventually reaching the pinnacle, upstairs room, which even has a refrigerator, Rose pointed out—but they also progress in the Hampton Ballet Theatre School production, taking on more advanced roles as the years tick by.
“I’ve danced, literally, every role. Like, literally—more than 15,” Rose, who began ballet at age 2, said with a laugh. “Oh my gosh. When I think about it, it’s like, wow.”
But it was when she landed the role of Clara—the young girl who receives the wooden nutcracker at the heart of the story, which comes to life and takes her on a magical journey to the Land of Sweets, ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy, all set to the famed score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky—did she move into the big dressing room, and feel like a true ballerina.
She was 10.
“It’s a big step up,” she recalled. “I’m sure when all the girls move up into it, they’ll be so excited—like I was.”
Abigail and Caitlin Hubbell remember exactly how thrilled Rose was, they said during a recent telephone interview. It was all she could talk about in school, and it’s what got the identical twins to the East Hampton theater to watch both her and “The Nutcracker” for the first time.
“I remember all the costumes, the dancing, it was just so beautiful,” Caitlin, now 17, recalled. “I just wanted to be up there. I started dancing when I was 3, but I took a break for a while, and I realized I just wanted to get back into it. It reminded me when I used to do it when I was younger. I still had a love for it.”
Abigail felt the same way, she said, and they signed up for lessons with director Sara Jo Strickland shortly after—together, of course.
“We’re together all the time, we dance together all the time. It’s a lot of fun to be able to dance with her,” Abigail said of her sister. “People say, ‘Oh, it’s so cool to see twins on stage together,’ and people say they can tell us apart by our dancing. I’ve never really been able to pick up on it.”
The pair share roles seamlessly—this year, it is the Dew Drop Princess and the Snow Queen, which they will dance with professional partners—though Abigail is still thinking about last year’s production, when she danced the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“There’s just no other role that compares,” she said. “It’s the role of the show. When you’re a little girl watching ‘The Nutcracker,’ every little girl sees that Sugar Plum Fairy and wants to be her—to have that experience and be her. And the music is so famous.”
For her final “Nutcracker,” Rose will reprise the role, which she said is extremely bittersweet. She first danced the Sugar Plum Fairy when she was 15.
“When I found out, it was like a dream coming true again. I feel strong and just ready—ready to attack it,” she said. “I think that every dancer in the world will say it’s one of the hardest roles you could ever dance because it really is. It looks so dainty and it looks so graceful, but it is so hard, especially the variations. It’s such an accomplishment, but it’s also sad. I’ve been with Miss Sara my whole life, since the beginning. I have a picture of us at my first ballet class, and my last ballet class will be with her at HBTS.
“It’s going to be five of us leaving. There are many, many girls that will have to fill our shoes, but I know they can do it—100 percent,” she continued. “They’ll be great.”
Caitlin and Abigail, who are also graduating and plan to attend college together in the fall, are beating back brewing emotions by staying focused on the upcoming performance, they said.
“When the curtain closes, it’s really going to hit me. Right now, I’m really excited to do it. It’s always my favorite part of the Christmas season,” Abigail said. “I’m definitely sad it’s my last one. I’ll just look back on it with so many great memories.
“No matter what I end up doing, ballet will always stay with me,” she continued. “It’s been such a big part of who I am growing up, and I can’t just let it go. I’ll always be a ballerina.”
Hampton Ballet Theatre School will stage its eighth annual production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” on Friday, December 9, at 7 p.m. at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Additional performances will be held on Saturday, December 10, at 1 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, December 11, at 2 p.m. Advance tickets are $25 and $20 for children under age 12, or $30 and $25 at the door, respectively. For more information, visit hamptonballettheatreschool.com.